John Medeiros Q&A

May 23, 2022
John Medeiros is not afraid to blend poetry with prose.

“I love that revising requires me to trust that writer within me. There is a relief that comes with surrendering to the process. I also love how the process requires me to identify what parts of my life’s narrative is absolutely essential to the telling of that narrative, and what parts are not. In short, the revision process teaches me things about myself I would otherwise not learn.”

You write about how you and your identical twin brother participated in a gene therapy in which the HIV-positive twin was infused with billions of genes from the HIV-negative twin. Did you always intend to tell your story?

I did. But initially this was a poem. When I entered MFA program, poetry was my focus. After my first two or three classes it became clear to me that my interest was really creative nonfiction, which I did not know was a thing before I entered the program. My poetry has always been heavy in narrative, and creative nonfiction allows for that. It was during my MFA program that I came to understand my writing process. That process usually has me starting with poetry and watching that morph into memoir and personal essay.

You’ve said that your memoir is a quest for identity. What did you learn about yourself during the writing?

I learned a lot of things, mainly that our identities are shaped by others whether we want to admit that or not. When I wrote this memoir, I knew what elements were going into it, but I did not know where it would begin and where it would end, so in a way it was like writing fiction, which requires the writer to trust the narrative to take them were it wants to go. So another thing I learned about myself is how to surrender myself to the process and how to trust that process.

You’ve said that you love the revision process. Many writers find it painful. What about it do you like?

I love that it requires me to trust that writer within me. There is a relief that comes with surrendering to the process. I also love how the process requires me to identify what parts of my life’s narrative is absolutely essential to the telling of that narrative, and what parts are not. In short, the revision process teaches me things about myself I would otherwise not learn.

In your book you move between forms, from poetry to prose, past to present, using white space differently, breaking up the format. Was this liberating to you on how you chose to tell your story?

I’m not sure if it was liberating as much as it was essential. The lyricism of poetry creates an intimate space, and only once that intimacy between writer and reader is created do I feel safe to share the narrative that might otherwise be difficult for the reader to fully experience. For me, creative that intimacy is essential to storytelling and because of that, the format becomes part of that very narrative.

You’re also a corporate immigration lawyer. How do the writing satisfactions compare from legal writing to memoir writing?

Legal writing is very different. There is room for creativity, but there are more rules to follow if you want to win your case. Another distinction is that with legal writing, you know ahead of time where you want your writing to end. With memoir writing, that is usually not the case, and that’s what makes it both challenging and exciting.

You must have been busy during the Trump years in your day job. Was it noticeable the demands on your time as an immigration attorney under Trump versus under Obama?

Absolutely. There was little time for my creative writing — most of my writing was about the challenges to the immigration process the Trump administration imposed.  One good thing about the Trump administration, however, is that it provided a lot of fodder for those of us writing about it. I have a piece that will be published in late April 2022 in the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) Law Journal. The organization is in its 75th year, and because of this, it is celebrating its anniversary in a number of ways. One way it is doing this is by publishing writing in its law journal that will include creative writing for the first time. My essay The Huddled Masses, which chronicles the development of immigration and immigration policy in the United States since, well, prehistoric times. It is written in a creative style similar to the Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano. The essay is broken into short sections, each with a separate title, that is heavily researched and footnoted, much like traditional law review articles, but with elements of poetry and lyricism that tell the story of immigration through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Trump gave me lots of fodder to finish that piece.

You have also published poetry. Which poets do you read and love?

Oh, many. My range is a bit eclectic. It includes the confessional poets like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. It also includes several foreign poets, such as Fernando Pessoa, Mário de Sá Carneiro, and Federico García Lorca. And I cannot leave out some of my American favorites, such as Ronaldo Wilson, Alex Lemon, Rafael Campo, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Michael Kleber-Diggs, whose book, Worldly Things, is an amazing collection.

I also adore the lyricism of essayists such as Jenny Boully and Lia Purpura. I am also going to through in a few fiction writers, too, because I appreciate how they use lyrical language in their fiction. These include Jeanette Winterson, Jamaica Kincaid, and José Saramago.

You used to be the curator of Queer Voices, one of the country’s longest-running reading series for queer writers. Are you still involved?

Unfortunately, the reading series was halted in 2017 when the organization that housed it, Intermedia Arts, suspended operations and closed permanently. Just before COVID hit, Quatrefoil Library took over the series, but I was no longer the curator. It was taken over by two beautiful curators who read in the series — Lisa Marie Brimmer and Sherrie Fernandez-Williams — but then COVID hit and impacted this program, like other art programs across the state. I know that Lisa and Sherrie curated a reading in July 2021, but I don’t know if anything has happened since. Those interested should contact Quatrefoil for further information.

What is next for you?

Well, I’m excited about the publication of The Huddled Masses, which I refer to above. I’m also exploring the topic of aging in the queer community, and how we develop intergenerational relationships and friendships, and mentoring the next generation.